Viewpoint: Does Bush plan to suspend the vote?

Most likely you’ve never heard of DeForest Soaries Jr., but he is a key player in a scenario that may affect all of us.

Actually, he is Rev. Soaries, senior pastor of Somerset, N.J.’s First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.

In March of this year, Rev. Soaries was elected chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission after initially being appointed to a four-year term in that office by President Bush.

Bush had tapped him in February 2003 to serve as a public director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. Soaries was a member of the bank’s affordable housing committee.

Before that, he had been New Jersey’s 30th secretary of state for a time.

Now for the rest of the story, as a popular radio newsman likes to say. Last week, Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Secretary, announced that U.S. intelligence officials had obtained alarming information that al-Qaeda may strike in America this fall.

This despite the fact that it all sounds and smells like another cry of “wolf” in hopes of lifting Bush’s abysmal poll numbers.

Newsweek magazine announced all this and then lit the fuse on a sputtering time bomb. Ridge recently received a letter from Dr. Soaries, pointing out that while there was a primary election scheduled in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, it was quickly cancelled by that state’s elections board after the horrendous attacks of that morning.

Dr. Soaries wrote: “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” He wants Ridge to seek legislation from Congress to give Soaries’ agency the power to make such a call.

A little power truly is addictive. Soaries has been in office only about two years, and he’s already grabbing for more clout.

Ridge and other Homeland Security officials say they are taking Dr. Soaries’ request seriously.

Drastic though such a step would be, Ridge has asked John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, through its Office of Legal Counsel to determine what steps would be needed to suspend the upcoming election if a terrorist attack were to occur.

Aren’t these the same legal eagles that told Bush in effect that torture is OK and that he didn’t have to observe any laws if he wanted to use it? Do you feel a cold chill crawling up the back of your neck?

Since Newsweek broke the story, the government has hurriedly backed away from acknowledging any such plans.

It would take a special law to make such a move possible. Only Congress, not Bush, has the authority to take such a step.

Still, a spokesman for Ridge’s department, Brian Roehrkasse, said: “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.”

That’s what he said at the time. Now Roehrkasse declared: “I am unaware of any such efforts, DHS (Homeland Security) is not looking into a contingency plan.”

Somehow, I don’t believe it’s the election they are trying to secure. What happens if Dubya’s political fortunes continue to spiral downward, and he or Karl Rove decides an intelligence failure concerning a terrorist attack would be opportune?

Will we see a declaration of martial law and the appearance in our streets of those specially trained troops ready to deal with any Americans who may have the temerity to disagree?

If you thought Al Gore was full of it when he said this democracy was in grave jeopardy, think again.

Some see the Newsweek story as a trial balloon. That’s unimportant. What matters is that enough Americans in and out of Congress yell loudly and long enough to scuttle this very bad idea.

Source: Newsweek,, New Jersey Star Ledger, U.S. Election Assistance Commission

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